This week (September 22 to 28, 2013) is Banned Books Week, where the American Library Association raises awareness for the copious books that are banned from schools and libraries across the nation.
Sometimes the books that get banned are much contested, but other times they are pulled from the shelves with barely a flutter of pages. Some of these books are considered classics (Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451) and some are new books that people just don’t want their kids to read for some reason (or more obvious reasons, such as with James’ 50 Shades of Grey). However subversive or innocent the book may actually be, it certainly chafes at my sense of freedom to deny an individual to read an act of free speech.
The Internet is full of information about banned books. Here you find a list of classic children’s books that were banned for various reasons. Most oddly, to me, are Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, which were banned in certain places and times to protect the logging industry. The Banned Books Week website features the ten most contested books from the last year, and many bookstores and sites are featuring books that are banned in several places as well.
I’m forced to wonder why certain books are banned. Common reasons include sexuality, drugs, violence, and other adult themes. I can understand wanting to quote/unquote protect the children. But aren’t our children the ones that need to learn these lessons? Shouldn’t our teenagers read Huxley and realize that medicating to make yourself happy and focusing on hedonism is just a way to let the world go by without having any affect on it yourself? Shouldn’t our young adults learn to value knowledge, education, opinion, and the right to speak out with the way you feel?
It’s true, too, that wanting to ban certain books is a valid opinion that the banners have a right to express; however, I think it’s more that they are scratching an itch. I won’t defend every book that people want banned, mainly because I haven’t read them all. From what I’ve heard about 50 Shades of Grey, frankly I’d be more concerned that my child might mistakenly think it was a good book! (If you’re a fan of that trilogy, let me know why and I might give it a try. I’ve not heard anything good about it, though.)
I think that a good majority of the “appropriate” books that are banned are victims simply because we as a nation find it hard to swallow the true problems that kids deal with these days. We ban these books because they deal with sex, drugs, alcohol, and violence, but then our children deal with those issues. What if an abused child was able to find solace or strength in a book? What if a kid learned a life lesson because they read something “too adult” for their age bracket?
I think a great answer to this problem comes in the form of the popularity of young adult dystopian novels these days. Things like The Hunger Games and Divergent are wildly popular, but aren’t exactly peace, love, and rainbow unicorns. I hope the trend continues (but I’m biased because I really enjoy dystopian lit).
The world is a scary place. There are things out there we want to protect our young from. If I ever have kids, I pray to any deity that will listen that they have a great time growing up and don’t have to deal with a lot of the harsher realities of being a human until they are ready. If that child comes to me and says they want a copy of 1984, I will proudly present them with my own dog-eared copy. Because in my own little corner of reality, IGNORANCE is not STRENGTH.
So, reconsider some banned books. Help fight those who want to ban them. Most of all, read them. What are some of your favorite banned books? Are there any you are glad are banned? Let me know your position on this important issue.